The #18 WPI Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 driven by Michael Igoe and Phil Keen won the opening round of the 2021 Intelligent Money British GT Championship, the Lamborghini factory driver taking the chequered flag nearly ten seconds ahead of the #7 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 of Jonny Adam in the car he shared with Andrew Howard.
Completing the overall podium positions was the #63 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini of Leo Machitski and Dennis Lind.
Century Motorsport made it a 1 – 2 in the GT4 class with a win for the #57 BMW M4 GT4 of Will Burns and Gus Burton which finished just over 12 seconds ahead of the sister #9 entry of Chris Salkeld and, taking the chequered flag, Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke.
The top three in the GT4 category were completed by the #2 Team Rocket RJN McLaren 570S GT4 of James Kell and Jordan Collard.
As the 13:20 start time approached, the rain, which had threatened in the early afternoon, was now falling and with the majority of the grid on slick rubber, the start was going to be a challenge.
Andrew Howard, at the wheel of the #7 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3, led the 26-car field away from the grid, joined on the front row by Michael Igoe in the 18 WPI Motorsport Lamborghinis Huracan GT3.
Two formation laps behind the safety car preceded the start during there was drama for Morgan Tillbrook in the #77 Enduro Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 which was stranded at Westfield after a spin and appeared to be unable to move under its own power. As a result, the two-hour race started behind the safety car. There was also trouble for the #3 Team Rocket RJN McLaren 570S GT4 driven by Alain Valente which returned to the pits and was pushed back into the garage with an electrical issue.
Green flag racing began with just over seven minutes having elapsed with Andrew Howard in the#7 Aston Martin immediately put under pressure by Michael Igoe in the #18 Lamborghini. Igoe passed Howard on the sixth lap and set about building a gap. Meanwhile Kelvin Fletcher, in his first GT3 race in the #11 JRM Racing Bentley Continental GT3 was chasing down Leo Machitiski in the #63 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini.
Contact between John Ferguson in the #15 Toyota GAZOO Racing UK Toyota GR Supra GT4 and Chris Salkeld in the #9 Century Motorsport BMW resulted in Ferguson spinning off into the gravel, bringing out the safety car for the second time. The incident was to be investigated post-race. The #15 Toyota returned to the garage but was retired.
When racing resumed, Igoe set about rebuilding his lead, allowing Machitski to put pressure on Andrew Howard’s Aston Martin. James Cottingham, making his first appearance in the British GT Championship, passed Adam Balon in the #1 Lamborghini for sixth and started to hunt down Richard Neary in the #8 Mercedes.
After 30 minutes of racing the closest on-track battle was for fourth place with Richard Neary in the #8 Mercedes putting pressure on Kelvin Fletcher in the #11 Bentley. Neary passed Fletcher at the start of lap 21 as Cottingham, meanwhile, was putting pressure on Adam Balon’s Lamborghini, the #69 Mercedes less than half a second behind.
By lap 23 Igoe had pulled out an advantage of nearly 1.4 seconds over Andrew Howard while Leo Machitiski was less than a second behind in the #63 Lamborghini.
Disaster was to strike the battling #69 Mercedes and the #1 Lamborghini when James Cottingham made an adventurous move on Balon going into Paddock Hill Bend resulting in contact and both cars finishing in the gravel. The safety car was called on for the third time.
Neither car had sustained serious damage and both limped back to the pits as racing got back underway. Leo Machitski saw an opportunity to challenge for second and was immediately on the rear bumper of the #7 Aston Martin before passing on lap 30. Howard appeared to be struggling which gave Richard Neary in the #8 Mercedes the opportunity to attempt to get into the overall podium positions,
As the race approached the halfway mark, Igoe had extended his lead to over four seconds from Machitski while Andrew Howard was just over half a second back in third. Kelvin Fletcher, running in fourth, was served with a penalty for overtaking at the safety car restart.
After the driver changes had cycled through. Phil Keen held the lead in the #18 Lamborghini with an advantage of over 3.7 seconds ahead of Jonny Adam in the #7 Aston Martin. Yelmer Buurman had moved the #6 Mercedes into third just under nine seconds further back.
With 40 minutes remaining, the closest on-track battle was for third place with Dennis Lind in #63 Lamborghini just a quarter of a second behind Yelmer Buurman in the #6 Mercedes. Lind was pushing hard but could not find the opportunity to pass the Dutch GT ace.
As the race entered the final quarter, Keen was maintaining the gap back to Adam with Buurman nearly nine seconds back in third. Dennis Lind was over half a second behind Buurman and finally took third place after the pair came across GT4 traffic. Buurman was baulked by the Team Rocket RJN’s Harry Hayek allowing Lind to pass on the inside.
With 18 minutes remaining, Adam was starting to fall back from Keen and Dennis Lind seemed to be unable to make progress on second place due to traffic. However with nine minutes remaining the Danish pilot started to eat into Adam’s advantage and by lap 71 was less than three seconds behind.
There was drama for the GT4 leader Charlie Robertson when the #56 Ginetta called into the pits with a puncture. Assetto Motorsport turned the car round as quickly as they could but Robertson rejoined back in fifth in class.
With less than two minutes remaining, Lind had closed to within just over half a second to Adam and the Beechdean pilot had to dig deep to maintain a gap back to the #63 Lamborghini.
Keen and Igoe were delighted to have taken their first win together.
“It was a great drive by Michael (Igoe) and I couldn’t be prouder of the team who have done a fantastic job,” said Phil Keen. “We’ve worked really hard over the winter and it’s just nice to see it pay off.”
“I just followed the instructions from Phil!” said Michael Igoe. “All the hard work we’ve done over the winter is starting to pay off so we’re looking forward to the next round.”
Victory in GT4 seemed to be going the way of Assetto Motorsport and its new-for -2021#56 Ginetta G56 driven by Mark Sansom and Charlie Robertson, a Pro-Am pairing who had moved into the lead courtesy of the longer pit-stops mandated for the Silver crews. A puncture, however, within the last ten minutes forced the #56 car to pit and allowed the Century Motorsport BMWs to move into first and second, positions that they held to the chequered flag.
“I can’t believe it – to come back into the British GT Championship and come away with the win is just a fantastic result!” said Century Motorsport’s Will Burns. “Obviously commiserations to Ginetta and their puncture but, at the same time, the safety car hampered us at the start so it was frustrating for them but to come away with the win is amazing.”
Round Two of the 2021 Intelligent Money British GT Championship takes place at Silverstone on June 26 – 27.